Cloth Diapering on a Budget

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If you’re a parent who wants to cloth diaper but you just don’t know how you’ll afford the initial start up costs, trust us — you’re not alone. Many Fluff Love members and admins have struggled to afford cloth diapers for their babies. The good news is that once you have your initial stash, you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars by using cloth diapers. Here are some ways to get started cloth diapering for cheap or for free.

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Groups that give free cloth diapers to low income families

There are a number of cloth diaper banks that give or loan free diapers to families in need. Diapers may be new or used, and it’s generally not possible to specify which style, brand, or print you’d like. Still, they’re the best way to get a free starter stash. Most of these programs require proof that you receive government assistance, such as WIC or Medicaid.

  •  The Rebecca Foundation (national): The Rebecca Foundation loans cloth diapers to families for up to a year, with extensions possible. Families must be US residents and must be able to show proof that they are on government assistance and have or are expecting a child. Special programs are available for military families, foster parents, and parents of special needs children.
  • Cotton Babies’ Share the Love(100+ locations nationwide): Cotton Babies Share the Love offers a loan of diapers to families who can show proof of being on government assistance. The program does not ship diapers, but there are more than 100 pick up locations across the country. Diapers must be returned by the child’s 3rd birthday.
  • Giving diapers giving hope (national) Giving Diapers Giving Hope offers loans of cloth diapers for a $20 shipping fee. There is no set time limit to return the diapers. Families must show proof of government assistance.
  • Cloth for a Cause(Canada): Cloth for a Cause lends free cloth diapers to Canadian families in need, with a dozen chapters across Canada.
  • Cloth for Everybum (Georgia and El Paso, TX): Cloth for Everybum provides a six month loan of diapers to people living within 90 minutes of a lending site. Currently, the only lending sites are in Georgia and in El Paso, TX. There are no income requirements for this program, but you are required to not own any cloth diapers and to have a child younger than 24 months.
  • Avery’s Bottom Cloth Diaper Ministry (national): Avery’s Bottom Cloth Diaper Ministry is a small nonprofit that loans cloth diapers to low-income or medically burdened families for the cost of shipping.
  • Jillian’s Drawers (Ithaca, NY): Operated by the cloth diaper store Jillian’s drawers, this diaper bank relies on local donations and provides low income families with cloth diapers. Bring your WIC card to the main location and leave with cloth diapers. This is for local families in Central New York.
  • Messy Moments Ministry (Sparta, Illinois): – Messy Moments Ministry distributes cloth diapers and accessories to families in financial need, focusing on families within a 90 mile radius of Sparta, Illinois.
  • Heiny Helpers (Bloomington, Indiana area) Heiny Helpers distributes cloth diapers to Indiana families that qualify for WIC.
    Other local cloth diaper banks: There are a number of local cloth diaper banks in the US and other countries. Additionally, many traditional diaper banks also are starting to offer cloth diapers. Check out this map of local cloth diaper banks.
  • WIC: Many WIC offices maintain information about local resources for parents, including diaper banks. If you’re unable to find a local cloth diaper bank, your WIC office may have that information.

Do you have information to share about other cloth diaper banks that aren’t listed here? Let us know though our contact sheet.

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Where to buy inexpensive new cloth diapers

If you’re buying diapers new, the most cost-effective solution is usually flats or prefolds under a cover. Though they may seem intimidating, both flats and prefolds are very easy to use, especially if you padfold the diaper and lay it into a tuckable cover. Flats are also a great overnight option. Some brands of pocket diapers and AIOs are also priced low enough that you can get a full stash for around $100.

Unfortunately, none of the most affordable brands are available in stores such as Wal-Mart or Target. Some are available on Amazon or eBay. However, your best bet is buying online — either directly from the brand website such as Alva or Sunbaby, from an online cloth diaper retailer with free shipping or low cost shipping such as Abby’s Lane Nicki’s Diapers, or through a cloth diaper co-op (more on co-ops just below).

Below we have a list of some lower-priced but good quality brands. For more specific information, check out our cloth diaper brand index.

Good value prefolds and flats

  • Flour sack towels (dish towels that can be used as flat diapers)
  • OsoCozy (Prefolds and flats)
  • Diaper Rite (prefolds and flats)
  • Nicki’s (Prefolds and flats)
  • Green Mountain Diapers (Prefolds and flats)
  • Econobum (prefolds)

Good value covers

  • Alva tuckable color snap covers
  • Assunta
  • Happy Flute
  • Nicki’s
  • Kawaii
  • Prorap
  • Diaper Rite
  • Diaper Safari
  • Imagine

Good value pocket diapers and AIOs

  • Alva
  • Assunta
  • Sunbaby
  • Happy Flute
  • Kawaii
  • Diaper Rite
  • Nicki’s

Brands to avoid

At Fluff Love, we’re not diaper snobs and we can get behind almost any brand of diapers. That said, there are a handful of brands that we just don’t recommend because our members report being very unsatisfied with them.

  • Gerber prefolds: These are more like burp cloths, and have very limited absorbency. Check out flour sack towels for more absorbency at a cheaper price.
  • Baby Land or Baby City pocket diapers: Common on eBay and Amazon, these are very inexpensive brands of pocket diapers. While they work for some people, a huge percentage of the diapers immediately delaminate (meaning the waterproof lining breaks, making the diaper unusable). Brands like Alva are just a dollar or two more, but are much more reliable.

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Using household textiles as diapers

Some of the most inexpensive cloth diapers aren’t even diapers! Lots of household textiles can be repurposed to use as cloth diapers. Flour Sack Towels (FSTs) are found in the dishcloth aisle at stores like Walmart or Target in a pack of 5 for $4.88. They make excellent flats or pocket stuffers. FSTs are extremely popular among Fluff Love members. Similarly, receiving blankets make excellent flats and can double up for a very trim and very absorbent nighttime diaper. You can find receiving blankets in thrift stores for 25 or 50 cents apiece. Old T-shirts can be cut into flats or folded to stuff in pockets. You may already own dishcloths or wash cloths that can be used as inserts. Diaper pins can be purchased 4 for $1 at Wal-Mart if you need fasteners. Fleece blankets can be used to make liners or even covers.

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How do those co-op things work, anyway?

You may have heard people talk about getting great deals through cloth diaper co-ops. A co-op, short for cooperative, is just a group of people who pool their money to buy things at wholesale prices. There are many cloth diaper co-ops on Facebook.

A co-op will announce a buy and provide a photo album of diaper prints and styles that will be a part of the buy. Participants sign up to buy, and pay once the buy closes. From there, the co-op purchases the wholesale order. It generally takes a few weeks for the factory to produce the order. The order is then shipped to the coop organizer, who sorts and repackages the diapers and mails them to the individual participants. It often takes about 2 – 3 months between the buy opening and you having the diapers in hand, so it’s not a viable option if you’re in a rush.

Co-ops often offer good discounts, but remember that shipping and fees can add up. When you participate in a co-op, you can expect to pay the following:

  • Price for individual items: Usually a discounted or wholesale price
  • Actual shipping from the co-op organizer to you: Depends on weight of packaging.
  • Co-op fees: This is a fee that covers the work, time, and expenses for things like packaging and printer ink incurred by the co-op organizer. It’s usually about $3.

For example, say you wanted to buy 10 Alva four layer bamboo AIO diapers. Here’s a hypothetical cost breakdown.

Buying through the Alva website: $7 each x 10 = $70

Buying through a co-op: $5 each x 10 = $50; co-op fee = $3; shipping = $8. Total = $61

In this case, the co-op saves you $9 off of $70, or about 13%. However, you have to wait an additional six weeks to receive the diapers. So before you sign up for a co-op, do the math and see if it’s worth the wait. The co-op organizer should be able to give you a pretty good cost estimate of how much it will cost to ship a specific number of diapers.

Some brands, such as Happy Flute, are primarily sold through co-ops, and co-op buys are generally significantly cheaper than buying through a middleman for Happy Flute. You might also find co-op buys for items that aren’t sold online, such as $3 Alva pocket shells, which is great if you plan to stuff with flour sack towels or other inserts.

With a co-op, there is a risk that the organizer is dishonest. Try to get reviews of the co-op before participating, and ONLY pay through paypal goods and services, which will provide some protection for 45 days after payment is made.

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Where to buy inexpensive used cloth diapers

One of the best ways to assemble a cloth diaper stash on the cheap is buying secondhand. With a simple bleach soak, used diapers are perfectly sanitary. Some hard-to-find prints of certain diaper brands, such as Ragababe or bumGenius, may actually cost much more than they did new. However, the vast majority of used diapers are available for somewhere between 25 – 75 percent of retail, depending on condition and desirability. If the diapers have been listed for a few days without selling, don’t feel shy about making a lower offer.

When buying diapers online, be sure to factor in the cost of shipping. Diapers prices often include the price of shipping — look for the letters PPD, short for “postage paid domestic.” Otherwise, you can expect to pay a few extra dollars for mailing costs.

Here are some good places to look for pre-loved cloth diapers. Online Buy-Sell-Trade (BST) pages are usually your best bet. We list a few below, but there are many, many online BST pages out there.

  • Your local Craigslist or other local garage sale or cloth diaper forums: Buying locally is great because you save on shipping costs, and you can physically inspect the diapers before you buy to make sure they’re in good shape.
  • Resale shops: Some people report finding secondhand cloth diapers at thrift stores or other resale shops.
  • Fluff Love’s BST Facebook page: At Fluff Love Buy Sell Trade, you can find affordable diapers of every style, both used and new.
  • Stash Builders Facebook page: Stash builders is a low-cost BST page focusing on helping parents on a budget. There are no pocket diapers over $7ppd, no wipes over $0.50ppd, and no lots over $25ppd.
  • Stinky Dipes Facebook page: Despite the name, they’re don’t all smell bad. Stinky Dipes BST-FFS is a place to buy extremely cheap diapers that are in need of some rehab. The diapers might be badly stained, have worn elastics, or may just be in need of a Fluff Love style deep cleaning. If you can make local contacts, you are likely to get diapers completely free.

Whenever you buy used diapers, there are a few things to look out for:

  • PUL: The most important issue is the PUL, or waterproof lining, in covers, AIOs, and pocket diapers. If you can, turn the diaper inside out to inspect the PUL. It shouldn’t look cracked or bubbly. This is the only deal-stopper. If the PUL is bad, the diaper is basically worthless for anything but use as a swim diaper. It’s not possible to see the inside of the PUL in some brands of AIOs — in that case, ask questions about whether or not the diaper leaks through the PUL.
  • Elastics: In older diapers, the elastic around the legs and waist may start to relax, or stretch out. Diapers with slightly relaxed elastics are often perfectly usable, although diapers with badly relaxed elastic will leak because the leg openings will be too loose. Some brands, such as bumGenius, are known for having elastic that relaxes quickly. If you have basic sewing skills, it’s fairly easy and cheap to replace elastics. Join the Fluff Love Sewing page for instructions on replacing elastics.
  • Velcro and Snaps: If you’re looking at Velcro diapers, make sure the Velcro is still sticky — it’s possible for it to get worn past the point of holding. It is possible to replace Velcro if you have some sewing skills. Similarly, if you’re buying a snap diaper, make sure none of the snaps are cracked. Diapers with one or two cracked snaps may still be useable, but they should come at a steep discount.
  • Holes: Look for holes in the fabric. Some natural fiber diapers are prone to developing holes. Diapers may still be perfectly useable with minor holes in the top layer of absorbent fabric, but again, this should be cause for a deep discount.
  • Stains and smells: Many used diaper listings will announce “No stinks no stains!” However, stained or smelly diapers shouldn’t deter you. With our Fluff Love stripping and bleaching methods, it’s possible to get stinky stained diapers sparkling white and smelling fresh. In fact, some of the best deals are on diapers that were stained or smelly because the previous owner didn’t have a good wash routine. Don’t believe us? Check out the Fluff Love Dirty Diaper Challenge, where our  admins rehabbed some unbelievably filthy fluff.

When buying used diapers online, make sure to protect yourself. We absolutely, 100 percent recommend ONLY buying through PayPal, and only paying through “goods and services”. This will allow you protection for 45 days. If the diapers don’t arrive, or if you receive them and they’re substantially different than described, you can open up a PayPal claim within 45 days and usually get your money back. It’s a great idea to take screen shots of the listing, and make sure you hang on to any communication between yourself and the seller, until your order arrives and you’ve had a chance to inspect it. NEVER pay for diapers through the “send money to friends and family” function, because this will leave you without any PayPal buyer protection.

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Make your own diapers

If you have a sewing machine, join the Fluff Love Sewing Facebook page for instructions on how to make a wide variety of diapers. The easiest project is a basic fleece cover, which is great for overnight. You can pick up a yard of heavy duty blizzard or anti-pill fleece from a store like JoAnn’s for $5, and make four or five fleece covers out of a yard (be sure to check for the in-store coupon). With some PUL and a snap press (about $10), you can also learn to make your own pocket diapers or PUL covers.

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Laundry for less

Worried about laundry costs? First off, consider using cheaper laundry supplies. Tide is excellent, but Purex, Sun, Roma, and Foca (non-HE) are also great alternatives at a fraction of the cost. If you need to use water softeners or boosters, consider store brands or generic brands like White Rain. You can cloth diaper even if you don’t own a washing machine! Many parents wash cloth diapers in a coin-operated Laundromat machine, but this can get expensive fast. Some other options include:

  • hand washing your diapers. It’s reasonably easy and inexpensive to wash cloth diapers with a camp washer made from a 5-gallon bucket and plunger.
  • Investing in a portable washing machine. Starting at $40 and going all the way up to about $300, portable washers can be a great option that quickly pay for themselves.
  • Hand washing or using the portable washer for a daily prewash, then using a Laundromat for the main wash.

To save on utility or Laundromat costs, you may also consider line drying your diapers. Additionally, if you’re using mainstream detergent, you can usually still get a good clean on diapers with a cold wash, rather than hot. Washing on cold can lower utility costs.

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Sample budget stashes

These sample stashes show how you can cloth diaper on the cheap

  1. FSTs and covers: 20 flour sack towels ($20), 5 Alva color snap covers ($19). Total for 20 changes = $39
  2. This is a super cheap and totally functional way to cloth diaper. You can padfold the flour sack towels and lay them into the covers. For overnight, do the kite fold, and lay a second padfolded flour sack towel into the wet zone for extra absorbency. For an even cheaper stash, replace some or all of the FSTs with secondhand receiving blankets.

  3. Mixed new stash #1: 1 econobums starter kit with 3 covers and 12 prefolds ($49), 12 Alva pocket diapers, $57.48. Total for 24 changes = $106.48

    Want to stick to new diapers? Look for solidly rated budget brands. You should be able to assemble an all-new stash for $100 – $150. Don’t forget to check out cloth diaper coops for even better deals.

  4. Mixed new stash #2, All American: 4 Diaper Rite pocket diapers ($43.80), 5 Imagine diaper covers ($44.75), 12 Green Mountain Diapers cotton flats ($24). 6 Nicki’s prefolds ($13.20). Total for 22 changes = $125.75 (plus shipping costs).

    Prefer to only buy from American companies? No problem. US-owned companied like Green Mountain Diapers, Nicki’s, Imagine, Diaper Rite, OsoCozy and many more offer quality products that are reasonably priced, especially if you focus on more economical flats and prefolds.

  5. Used stash: 15 used prefolds ($15), 4 used Thirsties covers ($24), 7 used Sunbaby pocket diapers ($35). Total for 22 changes= $74.

    This is just an example of deals that commonly come up on Craigslist or BST pages. With a little bit of time and a bottle of bleach, it’s totally possible to put together a good-quality used cloth diaper stash for well under $100.

  6. Daycare stash, purchased new: 6 Kawaii heavy duty Velcro pocket diapers ($42.90). 6 Happy Flute charcoal bamboo AIOs ($42 from a co-op). 2 Happy Flute wetbags ($6 from a co-op). Total for 12 changes = $90.90.

    Most daycares don’t permit diaper systems like prefolds or flats that require the reuse of covers. That generally leaves you with pocket diapers or AIOs. Most babies use about 6 diapers per day at daycare. A dozen changes will allow you to wash daycare diapers every other day. Additionally, a daycare will usually ask you to send a clean wetbag every day to hold dirty diapers. For an even cheaper daycare system, try to find pocket diaper shells, either secondhand or through a co-op, for $3 – $4 each and stuff with flour sack towels. That would bring your total daycare diaper costs to around $50.

  7. Rock bottom cheap: 24 receiving blankets or tee shirt flats purchased from thrift stores ($8). Five homemade covers made from 1 yard of fleece or PUL ($6 with craft store 50% off coupon). Total for 24 changes = $14.

    With just a little bit of craftiness and access to a sewing machine, you can put together an entire cloth diaper stash for $10 – $15. The fleece covers may be bulky for daytime, but will do the job. Alternately, you can sew trim covers in adorable prints from waterproof PUL. Careful though — making your own diapers can be just as addictive as buying them!

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